This is less of an album review than it is a eulogy. This is in remembrance of Big Baby Gandhi, a loudmouth, smartass, lonely, Bengali NYC rapper, who delivered two damn near perfect mixtapes that pondered about what it was like to be different and about whether or not it’s possible to be happy. He talked about drugs, he talked about beer, he talked about women, he talked about All Dogs Go to Heaven; he was an Internet rapper raised and weaned on the Internet. In the beginning of 2013, he made the very rational decision that focusing on his pharmacy school education was better for his long-term financial prospects than trying to make a living shouting his lyrics at people in clubs. In other words, he left rap to get a dayjob. Pour one out for Big Baby Gandhi; a perennially underrated rapper who will live on in the zeroes and ones.
But before we get to the burial, there’s this. Before he decided to hang his mic up, Gandhi convened last year to record his “official debut,” which means that the unauthorized St. Vincent and Arcade Fire samples that used to pop up on his tapes are long gone, and in their place floating beats that Gandhi produced himself. Perhaps because of him publicly declaring he’d be done rapping after releasing the album, or maybe because he’d spent long enough waiting for this to be released via Heems‘ Greedhead label, Gandhi opted to release this by himself, throwing it up on Bandcamp under his Crack Diamonds Entertainment label and planning to release it physically next year. The D.I.Y. release suits the release; this is an insular and self-focused album.
The first thing you notice on D E B U T is that Gandhi seems to have internalized the “Waka Flocka meets Danny Brown” criticisms that were levied at his distinct rapping honk. He’s calmer, less shouty, more dejected and less irritated. It was a move he started on the quieter moments from 2012’s No1 2 Look Up 2, and completes here. He’s positively mellow on the sex jam “Somebody Else’s”, and even whisper -coos on “IDRC (ALAIWU)”, “Ain’t A Playa”, and “Black Lipstick”. D E B U T as a whole has some of his strongest rapping in his three-release career.
The thing that will make Gandhi’s retirement sting the most is the fact that when he was at his best, he was able to deliver songs from a unique perspective in hip-hop. On “Green Card” he raps specifics about the paperwork you no longer have to do once you have a green card in maybe the first ode to bureaucratic immigration in the history of rap. When he’s on his game, there’s no one out there like Gandhi. He caps off D E B U T with “Boomerang”, something of a career summation—“much handsomer than I am in my press pics”—while talking about how he raps for self-expression, for fun, and how he’s probably more comfortable sitting around listening to Bjork in New York. “I’m laidback and relaxing/ my current state is cool calm comfortable/ feeling indestructible,” he says here, over oscillating keys and the album’s best beat, before saying “don’t worry about me” on the chorus. The idea that Big Baby Gandhi won’t be around to make another album, just when his production got this good, and that his perspective will be lost in rap, is a bleak thing to consider. But at least the kid left a beautiful corpse.